The Who released a string of classic albums, but many consider Quadrophenia to be their best. It’s certainly one of their most ambitious. Pete Townshend wrote the songs, but the stunning performances by Roger Daltrey (vocals), Keith Moon (drums) & John Entwistle (bass) bring the songs to life. Nowhere is that more evident on “The Real Me”, which features all four members in top form, showing why they were one of the all-time great bands.
The Who – “The Real Me” (Peter Townshend) Copyright 1973 Fabulous Music Ltd, Towser Tunes Inc and ABKCO Music Inc
Welcome, all you music junkies, to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, part of the Pantheon Podcast family. My name is Brad Page, and I’ll be your host and musical tour guide as we explore a different song each episode, discovering all the little elements that make a song great. No musical knowledge or experience is required here, because we don’t get into music theory. We’re just putting our ears to work and seeing what they uncover.
On this episode, we’re digging deep into a track from a legendary album by one of my all time favorite bands– maybe the greatest rock band ever– The Who. This is “The Real Me”.
As far back as 1970, the who were toying with the idea of doing a double album where each of the four members would get one side to stretch out and showcase themselves. That never happened.
Instead, they came up with a much more ambitious project: a concept album. A story that would explore four different sides of one person, each aspect represented by a different member of The Who. The result was an album that was met with mixed reviews and would confuse some of the audience, but is now considered one of the greatest albums of all time. In some way, the germ of what would become the “Quadrophenia” album began in June 1972, when the band recorded “Long Live Rock”. This song tells the story of The Who’s early years.
This song was never included in “Quadrophenia”, but it eventually was released in 1974 on the “Odds and Sods” album, a collection of outtakes and leftover tracks. But in the liner notes to “Odds and Sods”, Pete Townsend wrote, “I had an idea once for a new album about the history of The Who called ‘Rock Is Dead, Long Live Rock’. That idea later blossomed into Quadrophenia.”
The mod culture of the 1960s was a uniquely British movement. Most Americans, then and now, are pretty unfamiliar with that whole scene. In fact, this album, “Quadrophenia”, is probably where most people in the US learned about mods.
”Jimmy” is the central character in “Quadrophenia”. He’s a kid who desperately wants to be a mod. But even among the mods, he struggles to fit in. Over the course of the story, he discovers that the mods he looks up to aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. And by the end of the tale, he ends up sitting on a rock in the ocean, waiting for the waves, contemplating suicide and finding some kind of inner strength…maybe. The end of the story is left ambiguous.
Jimmy is a who fan. This is the early ‘60’s version of The Who, when they were the favorite band of the mods. And he eventually discovers that The Who may not be all they’re cracked up to be either. What makes “Quadrophenia” such a magical album is not the four-part split personality concept, it’s the story of a teenager who represents both the band and their audience. And through this character, they reflect back on the history of the band from their beginnings in the mod scene to where they were at the time of this recording.
In writing these songs, Pete Townsend is not only trying to understand his audience as represented by Jimmy, he’s also trying to understand The Who itself, how they got here, their successes and their failures. Townsend’s demo for “The Real Me” was recorded in the spring of ‘73. It’s slower with a different beat, there’s some guitar fills that he eventually dropped, and a fourth verse that was deleted from the final version.
With the demos, Townsend would keep the bass and drum parts pretty minimal. He wanted John Entwistle and Keith Moon to come up with their own parts and not to try to follow what he laid down on the demos. That’s all part of what makes The Who The Who.
“Quadrophenia” opens with the sound of the ocean, waves crashing on the shore. This is actually the only who album that opens this way– not with a song, but with a natural sound effect that puts you in a physical place: on a beach near the sea. This opening introduces the four musical themes of the album, the themes that represent the four sides of Jimmy’s personality his “Quadrophenia”, as well as the four members of The Who:
- Helpless dancer
- Is it me?
- and Love Reign O’er Me
And then the first actual song to kick off the album.
“The Real Me” is a song that lashes out against psychiatry, religion, family and being rejected in love. But what the song is really about is the struggle to find our own identity, and the sheer frustration when other people can’t see us for who we really are. All of that can be felt in the performances that each band member delivers.
So much going on in this song, we’ll try to take it all in.
Besides Roger Daltry’s powerhouse vocals– in my opinion, this album represents Roger’s peak as a vocalist– the most important instrument in this song is the bass guitar. It’s what propels the song more than any other instrument. According to bass player John Entwistle, this bass part was the first take. He was messing around, playing whatever he wanted to play. They recorded a few more takes but always came back to this one.
Entwistle was looking to inject some new life into his playing, so he switched to a new bass guitar for this album, a Gibson Thunderbird.
Let’s listen to that bass part from the intro through the first verse.
So good! Here’s the second chorus, and again, listen to what the bass guitar is doing
Let’s listen to one of those patented Roger Daltry screams. John Entwistle is not only playing the bass parts, he also played all the horn parts on this album. Here’s what the horns are playing during the chorus. And let’s check out Townsend’s guitar part during this section.
Now let’s go back and listen to the bass and drums during that same section.
Listen to the power and the energy of the band here, just the three of them. You can see why they were one of the greatest live bands of all time. Let’s listen to Roger’s vocals.
Let’s hear Keith Moon’s absolutely maniacal drums during this chorus.
“The Real Me” by The Who.
In an interview with Q magazine in 1994, Townshend described “The Real Me” as having “the big, big bass of John Entwistle, the big, big drums of Keith Moon, the power chords, the huge voice of Roger Daltrey… and what they’re actually saying is ‘I’m a pathetic little wimp ‘.”
Townshend wrestled with the challenge of writing delicate, poignant pieces and then having them delivered with the thundering intensity of The Who. There was just no holding them back. But that’s part of what I love about this band– that dichotomy, that somehow they were able to make it work. Townsend and Daltrey have performed all of “Quadrophenia” live in recent years, but without Entwistle and Moon, it’s not the same. It’s still good, don’t get me wrong, it’s good. But it’s not “The Who”.
In putting this episode together, I used a few resources, including a great book called “Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia” by Richie Unterberger. Highly recommended if you’re a Who fan. It’s a great book. There’s also a very good documentary on the making of “Quadrophenia”, I believe that’s on Amazon Video. If you search for it, you can find it.
Thanks for joining me once again on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, here on the Pantheon Podcast network. You can find all the past episodes of this show on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com.
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